Many Mexicans tell the tale of how years ago the Virgin Guadalupe appeared before a young man. Later, when the man told the townspeople about the vision, no one believed him and the bishop ordered him to prove his story. The young man filled his serape with roses and brought it before the bishop. When he opened the robe, the virgin’s face appeared in place of the roses, thus proving her existence.
Many years later, Mexicans across the globe still recognize this hallowed day by attending mass and preparing rich feasts.
“We begin the Christmas season by celebrating Dec. 12, the day the Virgin appeared,” said Juan Martinez, who traces his roots to El Trigo De Altenas, Mexico. “Catholic Mexicans start off the day by going to mass at 5 in the morning.”
The mass is a cheerful affair, Martinez said, with a mariachi band performing familiar tunes for the crowds in the church.
In several small towns in Mexico, families, friends and neighbors host dinner parties for each other every weekend after Dec. 12 until Christmas Eve. The events include special foods, drink and lots of dancing. In the Martinez family, the big feast is reserved for the evening of Dec. 12.
“In our tradition, we make a huge meal of traditional Mexican food,” Martinez said. “We eat things like posela which is made of corn, tamales and birria which is shredded barbecued beef shoulder and leg.”
After the meal, high school students perform a traditional “ballet,” accompanied by mariachi music, which the adults and young children gather around to watch.
“Mexico is very traditional. El Mariachi just gets everyone really excited. We all know the tunes and it gets us in the mood to dance and celebrate,” Martinez said. “When the performance is over, everyone starts dancing to the music of accordions and guitars.”
The Dec. 24 celebration begins with midnight mass followed by yet another feast that includes menudo (cow’s stomach lining), tamales stuffed with chicken or beef and hot cinnamon tea spiked with liquor.
Santa Claus shows up a few hours later, bearing platters of cookies, to help the young children open their gifts.
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